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Little Things Matter

Little Things Matter

When it comes to building a web experience, most of the effort is typically put towards the tactical objectives that aim to satisfy business and user requirements: Users should be able to easily browse products and buy them; The business should have the capability to manage marketing campaigns; Users should be able to easily move laterally between similar products. Every agency, no matter how big or small has to solve these same problems, and that will never change.

However, it’s the execution of these details that makes the difference between a distinctive experience and one that’s forgettable. This week, the Little Big Details blog has been making the rounds in the blogosphere for showcasing clever micro-interactions across different apps and websites. Mico-interactions can be used to enhance a user’s experience, while subtly guiding and persuading them down a desired path.

Mac OS X’s dynamic date formatting and credit card auto-detection are pretty classic examples of micro-interactions that have become widely adopted and even become best practice. On iOS and relatively new platforms, clever designers paved the way with interactions like Pull to Refresh that quickly became not only widespread, but expected by users (and in this case, open sourced).

These types of interactions delight users because they are the by-product of designers anticipating user needs, and going above and beyond to help them through the experience. They’re often so subtle, that most users won’t be consciously aware of them until after they’ve fulfilled their purpose.

Guiding Along & Enhancing an Experience

The concept behind these interactions isn’t new and revolutionary, but the sophistication and complexity of modern sites and apps is making them a necessity in the digital space. Products have been incorporating smart, thoughtful design tactics for years. Thinking even of just a few objects in my own home, there’s subtle yet brilliant features that make life a little easier.

Vacuum cleaners from Dyson have a small hook at the bottom and the top that you use to wrap the power cord around once you’re finished vacuuming. The next time you’re ready to vacuum your house though, the top hook swings downwards to allow the whole bundle of power cord to come loose at once. Cleaning isn’t something anyone’s particularly excited to do, so removing small inconveniences like having to unwrap the cord makes a Dyson a little less painful to use each time.

Breville has won me over with just about all of their kitchen appliances because of this very carefully tuned attention to detail. Their Smart Toaster is a product clearly designed with a great deal of empathy for its user. It includes a button simply labeled “A bit more” that does exactly what you would expect – the bread is lowered to toast again for a few more seconds. Among other features, it also has a “Lift & Look” button, and a progress bar indicating how long is left in the toasting process. As the designers of the product explain, these thoughtful features comes from considerable user testing and feedback.

My headphones of choice in the office here at Teehan+Lax are Urbanears, and aside from delivering some good sound, they have a pretty clever, if unfortunately named feature called the Zound Plug that allows another person to plug in a set of headphones into your Urbanears. It negates the need for any sort of headphone splitter and makes it nice to share a movie or TV show with a friend on a flight or long transit ride.

Ultimately, the sum of all these small features don’t amount to much, but paired with a killer core product they can move a product from good to great. Paul Bennett of IDEO gave a talk at TED in 2005 and sums it up quite well:

“…design need not invoke grand gestures or sweeping statements to be successful, but instead can focus on the little things in life.”

Adam Schwabe More posts by Adam Schwabe